Mercedes-AMG teams Black Falcon and AKKA ASP took both pole positions for the first round of Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe at Brands Hatch as red flags-dominated both parts of qualifying.
Alternating between blue skies, rain showers and even thunder and lightning towards the end of Q2, some teams coped better than others when it came to making the right call on which tyres to go out on and where to find the best levels of grip around the tight and twisty British circuit.
In Q1, which started damp and ended dry, the battle for pole – which in the opening stages had been held by Team WRT’s Óscar Tunjo – was disrupted by the first red flag of qualifying as Diego Menchaca in the FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo spun backwards into the Paddock Hill Bend gravel and flipped the car onto its roof. The Mexican was unhurt in the crash.
After the car was recovered and the first 20-minute session resumed, the battle for pole for race one quickly descended into a straight shootout between the Mercedes teams and the squads running the Lamborghini Huracén GT3 Evo.
The early pacesetter was GRT Grasser Racing Team’s Mirko Bortolotti who was lowering the target lap time every time he crossed the line even when Andrea Caldarelli – in the second FFF Racing entry – tried his best to snatch pole away.
However, both of them were caught unaware by Black Falcon as Luca Stolz put in a 1:23.261 to eclipse Bortolotti by 0.167 seconds. It did appear as though the Italian was on-track to best Stolz’ time but he went too hot into the left-hander of Stirlings and span across the track and impacted the barriers. That brought out the red flag with just seconds remaining.
The late stoppage relegated Caldarelli to fourth, behind the Silver Cup AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG of Nico Bastian. Kelvin van der Linde secured fifth while Vincent Abril, who set the pace earlier on but couldn’t find the extra pace when it mattered, will start race one sixth.
The second session was equally stop-start. With black clouds looming large over the Kent circuit, it appeared to be vital for teams to get out early and set a banker lap before the track was drenched again.
That is exactly what Stolz’ team-mate Fabian Schiller did as his early lap of 1:23.604 was enough to claim pole position for the second 60-minute race as a red flag for the #2 Team WRT and #24 Saintéloc Audi R8 LMSs colliding in the Clearways gravel trap caused a stoppage long enough for heavy rain and thunder and lightning to make their presence felt.
With the track soaked, the green flag running was limited to teams who wanted to get more experience of driving in the wet with the forecast suggesting more of the same on Sunday.
The quickest of the drivers who failed to set a dry lap was Christopher Haase in the #25 Saintéloc car which was only good enough for 18th place. Others who found themselves staring at the bottom end of the grid included Dries Vanthoor who will start 22nd, just ahead of Christian Engelhart who couldn’t set a lap because of Bortolotti’s earlier crash.
On the opposite end of the scale, the wet running guaranteed a front-row start for Nick Foster in the Attempto Racing Audi while Maro Engel and Marvin Kirchhöfer locked out the second row for Black Falcon and R-Motorsport respectively.
Of note a bit further down the top ten was the great result for debutant Tom Gamble, the 17-year-old qualifying in ninth for the Silver Cup #17 Team WRT Audi he shares with Shae Davies.
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